Predictable Identities: 17 – Midpoint Review

This entry is part 17 of 27 in the series Predictable Identities

Predictable Identities is 16 posts in, which is going much better than I would’ve predicted. It’s time to review what we covered so far: the principles of predictive processing and how we apply them to other people.

Our brains constantly predict sensory inputs using a hierarchy of models. Learning new and better models improves our predictive ability in the long term but can be so painful in the short term that we will fight against updating, and often fight the people who force us to update. It’s important to take all models with a grain of salt and resist the lure of all-explaining ideologies.

We predict the world to exploit and act on it, and the same applies to other people. We need to know how to get people to do nice things for us, using stereotypes for strangers we don’t know and more detailed mind-simulations for people we do. We don’t need detailed models for people unlikely to be nice no matter what, and we’re creeped out by people who don’t fit our models at all like those who blow their non-conformity budget. We encourage those around us to conform to our narratives and predictions of them, which means that changing one’s opinions and behavior takes great effort in the face of the expectations of your social surroundings.

Finally, our predictions of ourselves interplay in complex ways with how others see us, since our minds are neither transparent to us nor opaque to those around us. For example, to be treated nicely we must honestly believe that we are nice, even if that is self-deceiving. Our models, predictions, and beliefs about our selves form our identities. This will be the topic for the second half of this blogchain.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, I predict exciting things ahead.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 16 – Newcomblike, Part IIPredictable Identities: 18 – Self-consistency >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog,, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.


  1. Hello Jacob! I wanted to comment on your non-conformity budget piece, but couldn’t locate the Leave a Comment section. :)

    But on that idea, and the predictable identities… I have a strange ritual of not knowing who or where I am every morning. I wake up and reconstruct my identity, piece by piece, in the first few minutes. [I used to think everyone did this, and learned a few years ago they do not. So now I label it “strange”.]

    I have a 1 year old, and I see him do the same thing. He wakes up confused, looks around, sees me and his father, and then his senses seep in. He is comforted by the familiar smells and sights. He reloads the program of context, family, location. But those first moments of open confusion, I think, are crucial.

    Maybe our brains are a little broken – I have a large, life-inhibiting quantity of Asperger’s – but I think it’s also the key to making massive life changes, with relative ease. And I do not expect any more or less from others, so when a friendship falls apart or drifts in or out, it feels completely normal to me. It’s made it really easy to live well, without the added weight of stories-as-emotional-baggage. Stories are like fun costumes or glasses I can try on for a while, and simply put back when I’m done.

    So I guess my question is, do you think it is more *useful* to have a rigid or fluid identity?

    I’m excited to digest your other blogchain-series pieces in the coming days!

    • This is really cool!

      It sounds like you get the best of both worlds: a short period of time when you can be anyone and think anything, and then a stable identity that reasserts itself. Do you ever try to leave notes with important questions for yourself to consider in the first few minutes?

      The rest of this blogchain will be partly about the pros and cons of a rigid or fluid identity, it’s surely too complex to say categorically which one is more “useful”. Hopefully, by deconstructing (refactoring) what “identity” is we can come up with something more useful than a binary choice.

  2. I would like to ask a simple semantic question: why do you use “prediction” instead of “expectation”? Both predictions and expectations are directed towards the future, but while expectations are centered around beliefs and can be kept implicit, predictions are announced and explicit. An expectation is something you have, even though you might not know and a prediction is something you make and there is no way you can’t be aware of it.

  3. I love your writing.